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UCLA Returns Home After Road Stretch For Pac-10 Series With Washington

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Cody Keefer and the rest of the Bruin offense are still searching for some consistency (Photo Credit: Official Site)
Cody Keefer and the rest of the Bruin offense are still searching for some consistency (Photo Credit: Official Site)

One week into the Pac-10 season and UCLA has already almost run out of margin for error. It is not panic time, but with an RPI of 108, they're playing from behind. Any chance of hosting a Regional is dependent on an incredibly strong finish, one in the area of 29-6. Without that, and it's unlikely, the Bruins will be playing the rest of the season in hopes of playing in a Regional close to home, not against one of the national seeds. Most of all, they are playing for a Pac-10 title that they hope will weigh more heavily on the minds of the selection committee than their early season struggles. 

In order to make a run at the Pac-10 title, UCLA needs to rack up series wins, especially when at home and against a conference cellar dweller. That's what the Bruins have on tap this weekend when they host Washington for three games at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Recent history is on the Bruins' side as well with UCLA having taken eight straight against the Huskies. Washington hasn't been very good this season either under former UCLA player and now Husky head coach Linday Meggs, putting together a 7-15 record, 2-9 away from home.

For UCLA, the focus is still on the offense. The pitching continues to do its job, but the offense hasn't done its job, at least not consistently. Consecutive strong offensive games against Cal Poly and USC were followed up by three games in which they averaged just three runs per game. That type of inconsistency has been common this season. The team batting average is still just .240 on a team that doesn't have much power. The Huskies aren't faring much better though, scoring just four runs per game and hitting .252 so it's not as if they're packing much of a punch either.

As has been the case for three years now, UCLA will send Gerrit Cole to the mount on Friday night (6 pm PDT). Cole has been sensational all season, but picked up no decisions and losses because he couldn't get any run support. Of course, the weekend that he's a little off his game, he gets the run support to get the win because that's just how baseball works. A four-run outing last week against USC still resulted in a win so the right-hander comes into this weekend 2-2 with a 2.31 ERA. With a 47 strike outs to eight walks, Cole has shown tremendous command and a .173 batting average against shows guys still aren't hitting him. He's also facing a Washington team he had success against last year, allowing just two runs in eight innings to pick up the win.

Aaron West hasn't had the best season for Washington this season, but he's coming off of a great start and will look to replicate it in hopes of beating Cole on Friday night. The redshirt sophomore threw a complete game against Nevada, allowing just two runs, one earned, although he did pick up the loss. Last weekend was the high point of West's season that hasn't gone so well though. At 0-4 with a 5.08 ERA and opponents hitting .314 against him, West has had a rough go of it so it's important that the Bruins get what they can early and often.

There isn't a pitcher in the country throwing any better than Trevor Bauer right now and the Bruins will turn to him on Saturday (2 pm PDT). Last weekend the junior took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and finished the game with a 14 strike out one-hitter to take over first place on the UCLA all-time strike outs list. The outing earned Bauer his second National Pitcher of the Week award of the season, an award he most certainly deserved. Bauer now has 56 strike outs in his last four starts, a 4-1 record, 1.13 ERA and .132 batting average against.

Opposite Bauer will be a redshirt senior, Jacob Clem, who has been the best of the Washington starters this season. Clem  is coming off of a five inning start in which he allowed three runs to pick up the win and improve to 2-4 on the season. That goes along with a 4.14 ERA, 30 strike outs and .261 batting average, all of which are all best among the Husky starters. Clem also had success against the Bruins last season in a short relief outing, allowing only one hit in two shut out innings.

Sunday (1 pm PDT) will be a first for Adam Plutko as he tries to rebound from a rough start for the first time in his young career. The freshman gave up four runs in 5.2 innings and only struck out three as USC got to him in each of the first three innings. It was the first time in Plutko's career that he surrendered more than two runs in a game so Sunday will be the first time he has to bounce back from such a start. Even with last weekend's start, which was on the good end of bad starts, Plutko has a 2.21 ERA and .226 batting average against and his 2-3 record is less reflective of his pitching and more of his run support. Meanwhile, Washington has yet to determine who will get the nod on Sunday.

Tickets to a game are $7 for adults, $5 for children and free for Wooden Club cardholders. For those of you looking to follow along this weekend, GameTracker will have it and you can get all the in-game updates, along with links and other information, especially weather and schedule updates, on my UCLA baseball twitter. John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm are back in the booth this weekend and giving you the play by play online all weekend. UCLA has been away for 11 of their last 13 and return to the comforts of Jackie Robinson Stadium for a trio of Pac-10 games that they can really use some blue in the crowd for so head on out to the ballpark for the games.